UN meet on Arab democracy in Beirut from today
BEIRUT A UN conference on democracy in the Arab world opens in Beirut on Sunday with UN chief Ban Ki-moon set to deliver the keynote address to a slew of dignitaries, many from countries that suffered under dictatorship.
“Current and former officials from a number of countries around the world will speak of their wonderful and rich experiences in their transition to democracy,” said Maha Yahya, regional advisor for the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), which is organising the meet.
Yahya said the two-day conference was aimed at helping decisions-makers in emerging democracies in the Arab world to benefit from these experiences.
Among international leaders participating is former Chilean president Michele Bachelet, who will speak about her country’s transition to democracy after 17 years of oppression under Augusto Pinochet.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Egyptian presidential hopeful and former Arab League chief Amr Mussa and a string of other international dignitaries are also attending.
Davutoglu, whose country has emerged as a key regional player in the Middle East, will give a speech on the challenges of transition.
“Where popular uprisings have succeeded in deposing autocratic rulers, people are discovering that this is only the first step, and that the road to democracy is long and fraught with difficulties,” according to an overview of the conference.
Former Sierra Leone president Ahmad Tejan Kabbah will speak about his country’s successful bid to integrate former combatants of the 1991- 2002 civil war into the regular army and society.
Also scheduled to speak is Mauritanian ex-president Ali Ould Mohammed Vall, who led a military coup in 2008 that ousted Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi.
Vall promised to step down within a year following democratic elections and lived up to that promise.
“This is an example of something that rarely happens, especially when military men reach power,” Yahya noted.
Libyan lawyer and human rights activist Fathi Terbil, who was appointed interim youth and sports minister after the toppling of Moamer Qadhafi, will speak about human rights.
Terbil was a leading figure of the revolution in Libya and also gained notoriety for representing the relatives of the 1996 victims of the Abu Salim massacre, one of the darkest chapters of Kadhafi’s rule.
The deposed Libyan leader killed 1,200 to 1,400 inmates of Abu Salim, Tripoli’s main political prison, after a riot sparked by appalling conditions.